HOUSTON—Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has announced it will be requiring students, faculty, and staff to receive the COVID-19 booster shot. 

In an email to the BCM community last week, the college says that due to new strains of COVID-19, they urge everyone to receive the new vaccine. 

An updated COVID vaccine has been approved by the FDA and is now available. A single dose is recommended for individuals 6 months and older. Because protection from prior vaccination fades over time and this updated vaccine better matches the currently circulating strains, the updated dose is recommended. I urge all of you to receive this. Insurance plans may provide coverage for the cost of the vaccine. The vaccine remains an important tool to protect yourself and others from the effects of COVID.

“Baylor faculty, staff and students must get the COVID vaccine, or request a medical, religious or personal exemption, and complete attestation by Nov. 30,” they added. 

According to BCM’s webpage, they also require new hires to be up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. It states that BCM follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding COVID-19 vaccines. 

Currently, “up to date” means an individual received the second dose in a two-dose series (e.g., Pfizer/Moderna) within the past five months or the single dose (e.g., J&J) within the past two months. If more than the applicable five or two months have passed for the respective vaccines, then the individual must have also received a COVID-19 booster to be considered up to date or ‘completely vaccinated.’

In the email, BCM does say they offer medical, religious, or personal exemptions from receiving the vaccine and even provides a link for students, faculty, and staff to complete. However, according to their Vaccine-Preventable Disease Policy, exemptions must be reviewed and approved every year. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 29 by State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R–Granbury) into law. The law prohibits state agencies and local governments from requiring individuals to wear a face mask, receive a vaccine, or keep their businesses closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or its variants. However, it does not address private businesses or universities. 

Separate legislation filed by State Rep. Brian Harrison (R–Midlothian) would have addressed the issue by blocking any Texas entity, including hospitals and private businesses, from mandating COVID shots for employees. 

Harrison’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Freedom Act,” would have required anyone administering a COVID-19 jab to obtain the recipient’s informed consent beforehand, authorized the attorney general to enforce this restriction, and required violators to pay damages of at least $5,000. However, the legislation was killed by the House Calendars Committee before a full chamber vote could be taken.

“It is embarrassing and infuriating that COVID vaccine mandates still exist in Texas – in 2023 – all because the Texas House Calendars Committee killed the Texas COVID Vaccine Freedom Act,” Harrison told Texas Scorecard. “We must pass it in the next special session to protect medical freedom.”

Michelle Evans, legislative director for Texans for Vaccine Choice, told Texas Scorecard this incident is not shocking and underlines the need for legislation for vaccine choice.

“While not shocking, this most recent vaccine requirement underscores the importance of codifying the right to informed consent for all Texans – something the legislature has, so far, failed to do this year,” explained Evans. “TFVC is thankful that exemptions are being offered by BCM, but ultimately Texans should not be forced to make a public attestation about a private healthcare decision.”

Texas Scorecard reached out to BCM but did not receive a comment before publication.

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.